As we start the downward rush to the end of the season, the Buffalo Bills are currently posting a 3-5 record, are win-less in the AFC East (0-2), and are ranked near the bottom in nearly every major defensive category.
You see, it turns out that the new look Bills aren’t actually better than the teams of the last decade, regardless of how the roster looked on paper to start.
This week, it was announced that kickoff specialist John Potter, brought in to boot the ball out of the end zone, was released by the team. It was hoped that the 2012 seventh round pick would spend his rookie season pinning opposing offenses at their 20 or less to start, but had only posted touchbacks in 50 percent of his kickoffs and hadn’t even played the last two games, so his spot was given to practice squad member and local favorite WR Marcus Easley.
It makes you wonder, who else from this Bills team won’t be playing in Western New York in 2013?
Three names spring to mind.
The same day the Bills dropped Potter, the 10-year veteran McGee was put back on injured reserve (surprise!), ending his rehab-heavy 2012 season and, effectively, saying good-bye to his time in Buffalo.
Face it fans, it’s over for Terrence. Drafted in the fourth round of 2003, McGee was spectacular his first few years with the Bills. He had 417 tackles his first six seasons (69.5/season), had two or more interceptions in each of those years (save 2006), and averaged just under 13 deflections annually.
However, starting in 2008, a string of injuries reduced McGee’s playing time more and more each year. He missed two games in 2008, five in 2009, and played a combined 15 games in the last two seasons.
After an off-season that saw McGee rehabbing through training camp and practice, it was hoped that his surgically repaired patella tendon would allow him to regain some of that early glory, but after being used sparingly over seven games this season, the Bills officially shut him down this week, citing a (surprise!) knee injury.
As a result, the two-year, $4.03 million contract McGee signed this year may be for nothing, as paying a guy to sit on the sidelines seems like a waste of resources for a team that needs big help defending the pass, especially with struggling second year cornerback Aaron Williams lost for the next few weeks at least.
McGee’s numbers dipped greatly the last few years due to his injuries. He had 102 total tackles the last four seasons (he had 92 in 2004 alone), snagged his last INT in 2009, and has had only two pass deflections in each of the last three seasons.
He was a great force in the last decade, sometimes the highlight of the defensive backs during that time, but no matter how much teammate Fred Jackson believes in McGee’s ability to fight through this latest injury, the odds are he’ll be proving his worth in another uniform come 2013.
And hopefully the Wildcat goes with him.
This year, the Bills have run a total of 17 Wildcat plays with Brad Smith at quarterback. They’ve resulted in just 74 yards gained, one big interception against the Cardinals that made the game closer than it needed to be, and an overall feeling that running these packages is a complete and utter waste of time.
When Smith was brought in from the Jets, it was believed his athleticism and ability to throw the ball would translate into major headaches for opposing defenses, disrupting their rhythms and catching them off guard for some big plays.
It has done neither, as Smith’s only big play was a 35-yard run in the Bills’ massive loss to San Francisco. Turns out, when you bring in your Wildcat package and run your quarterback up the middle almost every play, teams tend to key on that player pretty quickly.
Otherwise, Smith’s been simply a decent third or fourth receiver option (311 yards on 28 receptions and 2 TDs the last two seasons) and very little else in Buffalo.
With $6.75 million due to him the next two years under his current contract, the Bills would be smart to part ways with both the Wildcat and Smith at the season’s end. That money can be used bringing in more defensive help, which the Bills sorely need (though after paying so much for Mario Williams, maybe all the money in the world won’t matter in the end).
Leodis McKelvin (though I’d love to put Aaron Williams here)
Yeah, he’s the NFL’s leading kick returner with 357 yards on 12 returns and he ranks third in punt returns with an average 19.5 yards per attempt (minus an 88-yard return for a TD that was called back), but as he said recently, “I’m a cornerback”, and therein lies the problem. As a corner, he’s pretty sorry.
Last week, when Aaron Williams went down, McKelvin was the default veteran choice to replace him as McGee was unable to and rookie Ron Brooks is still mending, still untested.
The result? Three tackles and still no real coverage skills displayed.
This week against New England, McKelvin gets his (perhaps) last big chance to make some noise, as he is currently in the last year of his rookie contract and has only looked good in one of his five seasons (2010: 62 tackles, 11 deflections, 2 INTs).
However, with their fourth round pick Brooks now ready to go and looking to impress after a stunning preseason of ball hawking (especially in the first two contests, when he had six tackles, three deflections, and a pick), McKelvin needs to have a standout day in order to secure his spot for 2013.
Granted, the Bills aren’t very deep at cornerback, especially with McGee likely on his way out and Drayton Florence released earlier in the year.
Even first round pick Stephon Gilmore hasn’t been all too special in his rookie season (34 tackles, 11 deflections, a forced fumble), though he’s been downright spectacular when compared to his starting partner, Williams.
The situation couldn’t be better for McKelvin to take control of the starting left corner spot, but he was already bumped down in favor of a barely average Williams, so he’s got to showing doing something he hasn’t to this point.
Sure, he’s a great special teams player, but rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham left college as the ACC all-time leader in kick return yardage (3,153) and fellow corner Justin Rogers has the same record in the Colonial Athletic Association (2,561 return yards).
If McKelvin can’t show that he can be as valuable defensively as he is returning, that next contract very well might be coming from another team.
Joshua Bauer is a writer with Football Nation